Our walking curfew was finally over!! I was keen to try hard to get him a bit further now. Day 1 of really trying; we made it about two houses along the cul de sac, but anything past the edge of our own house felt like huge progress at that time! The next day we got to next door and, uh oh, a car pulled into the cul de sac and into the drive opposite! Panic coursed through my veins, a friendly neighbour got out of the car and cheerfully bid me good evening...at my feet Zac began to twist and jump and tried to bolt for the still open door! “Oh gosh, it’s ok, I’m going” he said, realising the problem immediately! Every word instilled further panic stricken responses from Zac. I knew that was it for the day, I had to let him go back, I needed him to know I would remove him from ‘danger’ whenever he wished to escape. I was cross with myself for allowing more words to pass between the neighbour and I! I really had to be assertive enough to make what Zac needed clear. We were inside in moments but it felt like an age.....and Zac went straight to his bed, and by ‘his’ I mean mine!
He refused to leave the house for the next 2 days, I was not surprised and felt I had let him down. I had also allowed myself to panic and I knew I had to ooze calm, soothing vibes from every inch of my body! I’m a stress head, I do NOT ooze these things! I thought a new plan was needed and that plan became 5.30am walking.....most of the world was asleep...nothing should stress us! I resolved to give off no emotional responses, zombie mode would be activated for Zac walking!
Gradually we progressed along the cul de sac, it took a couple of weeks due to the missed days when he didn’t want to come out. The day we made it out of the cul de sac was a breakthrough moment, we were both elated and now that Zac could see there was more to explore, he wanted to go....we rounded the corner and walked, I really wished I’d shut the front door.....anyway, I suspected we wouldn’t get too far....a porch light flicked on as we passed, Zac flinched, I didn’t let myself react at all. I tried to stay in zombie mode, I didn’t want to let him know the million things going through my head. We made it to the next corner at which point, we turned back, stopping on a positive must be good. I was so proud of him, he had gone with me and trusted me to keep him safe!
The next morning, I closed the door behind us, I watched him, there was no panic there, so, off we went, we rounded three whole corners and made it to a little green! Hallelujah! We had made it to communal grass! Now, I needed him to sniff, proper head down sniff, “let’s have a sniffy Zac” and by some miracle he did!
This is so good for a dog’s mental state, it realeases endorphins and makes them feel good about life! I was so pleased he felt comfortable enough to lower his head and do this! There was movement in the distance, a man was leaving his house. Zac’s head whipped up and he stared intently, he watched every movement that man made.....staring so hard that I felt a little embarrassed! The man drove off in a large noisy van and that really didn’t please my Tunisian boy. I felt we should quit at this point. We got home without any further excitement and Zac spent his standard two days processing everything he had seen, heard and sniffed.
Gradually we made progress, getting further from the house each day but there was much flinching....at every light that flicked on, every shadow that moved and every car that dared to pass us. Zombie mode was not really working, it seemed to be passing a sombre mood across instead so once I realised this I began to treat each walk like it was the best thing EVER, and singing, 'a whole new world.....' madly in my head! As for the flinching, I stole a technique I had read about for a dog that was scared of people, the owner had started to excitedly announce the approach of each person with an elated, "Look, a friend!"........so every car was greated with, "oooh look a brrmm brrmm Zacky" and every shadow with, "wow, look it's our shadows" and it did actually seem to work, slowly but surely. He no longer worries about shadows and only flinches if a particularly large or noisy vehicle passes by too close for comfort, but I still use the, "oooh a big, noisy brrmm brrmm....." technique.
Having made so much progress, I wanted to get him to better places and that meant a new hurdle; the car.....! The last experience he’d had, and probably the only ones, were being taken to an airport and from an airport in a transport cage for many hours, away from everything he’d ever known. I wasn’t sure the idea would be met with enthusiasm but I knew it would be worth it in the end. I took Zac out and walked him round the car, he seemed fairly relaxed so I opened the door for him. He peered in and then looked at me not understanding what it was I expected of him....oh, demo mode again, I climbed into the passenger seat and hauled myself across the handbrake to the other side! He followed me in. I hooked his harness securely into the dog seatbelt.
We sat, he processed, I started the engine once I felt he was comfortable and I watched him process that too! Slowly we pulled out of the drive , he began to shake but he was curious and looking out of the windows with great interest. His nerves got worse the further we went but now that I’d taken the plunge I had to make it worth his effort and trust. We parked at the football field 5 minutes drive away and Zac was mesmerised by all the comings and goings of the many other dogs. He sat in his safe windowed bubble taking it all in, nosey monster was in full swing.
After a while I opened the door to see if he wanted to brave a look from the outside but he stayed firmly in his seat. We watched a spaniel chasing a ball, a pair of terriers slaughtering a football, and a labradoodle jogging with his daddy. Zac’s face began to relax, these dogs were happy and having fun, and Zac knew it, I could see the realisation sinking in; life could actually be enjoyable! I opened the door again and invited him out. My Tunisian boy looked right into my questioning eyes, something had shifted; I saw hope, I saw trust and I’m sure I saw determination behind his gaze ........bravely he jumped down beside me! Off we went together one slow, strong step at a time, knowing we had just crossed the threshold of unlimited adventures to come, a new world in which there may well be cold and rainy gloom but also in which we could discover the pleasures of woodland, beaches, meadows and snow....together, the two of us against the world! ❤️